Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
February 3, 2012 5:42 pm
Variance. A permit granted as an exception to a zoning ordinance that allows a property owner to meet certain specified needs.
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
In reviewing many of the innovative new consumer trends at the worldwide whopper of all consumer electronic extravaganzas—the International Consumer Electronics Show—in Vegas last month, I took note of the first generation of "connected appliances" hitting the market this year.
At last year's CES, we first heard about the Pacific Northwest "Grid Friendly" appliance demonstration, which outfitted 150 Sears Kenmore dryers produced by Whirlpool with a controller chip that senses instability in the grid and shuts down the heating element while the drum continued to tumble, conserving demand and protecting the grid at the same tie.
At this year's CES, Whirlpool demonstrated how it has taken connected appliances to the next level. Over the next 18 months, company officials announced that four "smart" appliances will be introduced including a refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer.
Company officials said in pre-conference releases that the concept of Smart Grid-enabled appliances has evolved to a broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. And with these new smart appliances, consumers can easily shift their energy consumption to off-peak times—saving money and benefiting the environment.
A home energy management device will read usages from appliances and signals from power companies to optimize energy use. Even more appealing for consumers is the peace of mind driven by alerts and notifications and 'remote control' functionality.
LG was another big CES destination in 2012 as the company also unveiled its line of Wi-Fi enabled connected appliances, designed to sync to a homeowner's LG phone with updates and features via LG's "Smart ThinQ" technology.
The company's smart washing machines can be monitored remotely via Wi-Fi; the newest LG smart refrigerator can check for expiration dates and send reminders; and the ThinQ Health Manager can customize recipes and foods to household members' individual weight or health conditions.
Across the counter, the newest LG smart oven is also equipped to operate remotely to have dinner ready when you arrive home.
In our next segment we'll look at balancing the convenience of connected homes with thinking green!
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
Home decor trends for 2012 are dramatic, colorful and certain to grab attention. The interior design staff at Lamps Plus came up with the following trend setting looks for 2012, along with suggestions for getting the look in your home.
French Market – Casual Elegance
Inspired by French and Continental European influences, this style places an emphasis on informal simplicity and casual elegance. Designers use authentic flea market or antique finds, from antique side tables to vintage post cards and fabrics. But you don’t have to go to a marche aux puces (fancy French for a flea market!) to achieve this look. Notes Lamps Plus Style Illuminated blog writer and designer Michael Murphy, “While you can always find time-worn antiques to use, these days you can also find plenty of new designs that feature the worn and weathered look that’s key for this style. From pillows to table accents and furniture, there is a wealth of vintage market available.”
Here are some designer insider-tricks to achieve the French Market look in your home.
• Choose furniture pieces that have classic lines.
• Select natural fiber fabrics.
• Incorporate organic wood elements.
Global Chic – the World Travelled
The Global Chic look mixes vibrant colors, textured fabrics and global accessories, like table lamps, pillows and fabrics, to create a world traveled exotic mood and collected look. Use exotic materials like faux snake skin along with leathers and ceramics to add texture to a room. Says Lamps Plus designer Marcia Prentice, “With global style resources at your finger tips, you can create a world traveled look without having to step outside your door. I like to use ethnic patterns and motifs on decorative pillows and throws to add that world collected look.”
Here are a few more key designer elements to add when creating the World Traveled look.
• Introduce exotic, colorful patterns on pillows and throws.
• Use wood accent tables.
• Feature unique ethnic sculptures made from reclaimed wood.
Clarity Contemporary - Less is More
As in past years, clean and contemporary is in. But, notes Michael, “What’s different this year is what we’re calling ‘Clarity Contemporary’, which is the use of contemporary accents and furniture that comes in clear glass or other translucent materials.” Just one piece of clear furniture or a lighting element will add a crisp, contemporary touch. “I love using translucent materials like acrylic, glass or crystal in a room. It creates an environment that looks always looks sleek and modern and up to date.” Look for coffee tables, end tables, table lamps or, for a bigger impact, a clear glass chandelier. Accent the clean simplicity of these items with textured accents like inlay ceramics or hand-carved wooden pieces.
To achieve the Clarity Contemporary look consider adding one of the following designer pieces.
• A dramatic, clear glass or acrylic ceiling fixture.
• Contemporary glass dining tables or side tables.
• Glass or crystal table lamps.
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
There is a lot at stake when the next generation of working shareholders joins the family business full-time, according to Stephanie Brun de Pontet and Carol Ryan, consultants from the Family Business Consulting Group, Inc.
Brun de Pontent and Ryan note that placing family leaders in a family-owned business is likely to strengthen the family’s commitment to the business, and deepen their connection. However, these family employees need to learn respect and abide by the rules just like any other employee. While it’s terrific to see a family member rise to a leadership position within a family business, they should be expected to earn this position just as any other employee would.
“In a family business, it is not unusual for non-family employees to feel next-generation family members who come to work for the company "have it easy" by virtue of their name. These co-workers will witness the family employee's easy access to top leadership, special opportunities and what appears to be an ‘automatic entry’ into the organization. What they may not see is that the position comes with a host of challenges as well,” wrote Brun de Pontent and Ryan in a recent article in the Family Business Advisor
Often, family employees face challenges that other employees do not, including pressure from family members doubled as employers, the feeling that work doesn’t end when leaving the office—especially when they may live with employers, and additional awkward remarks and comments.
Below are some of the issues that Brun de Pontent and Ryan find worth discussing as part of "on-boarding" a next-generation employee in the family business, as taken from their article in The Family Business Advisor.
Living under the microscope –
While it’s true that having the family name can give you a leg up in some circumstances, it also means you are immediately under a different kind of scrutiny. You cannot as easily "learn from your mistakes" like anyone else because you aren't anyone else. While many next-generation family members have grown up with warnings from their elders to "behave," because their behavior would affect the family's reputation, this pressure is different when it comes to your work reputation.
Coping with the legend –
It is important for each individual to find their own place in the business, with their own individual role based on their personal strengths. A lot of young family members struggle with their own ideas of "living up" to expectations and the traditions of accomplishment of their family. Many young people put a lot of pressure on themselves to live up to what prior family members have accomplished. While it is wonderful to have family members to whom you look up to and admire for their accomplishments, this admiration should never lead you to seek to emulate your parent or other family member.
Managing employee relationships
- Any new employee anywhere wants to make a good impression on his or her supervisors and colleagues. When you are a working shareholder in your family's business, you may find managing employee relationships trickier than you expected. First, while you should be yourself and seek to have appropriate social interactions with employees, there are boundaries for family members that are different for other employees. You are "different" by virtue of being in the family and some in the business may treat you differently or make assumptions about you that you will have to work to overcome.
Relating to family
- In addition to navigating complex interactions with non-family employees, there are a few changes to family relationships that you may encounter when you begin to work in the business. The most obvious is how to relate to your family members who also work in the business. From thinking about how to address your parent at the office to thinking about the appropriate mentoring or work relationships you can have with other family members, you now have to establish professional relationships with people with whom you have a lifetime of personal history.
Brun de Pontent and Ryan note that these are important things to think about when joining a family business. While becoming a part of the family business can be a wonderful, empowering opportunity, it’s important to be aware that all business rules still apply to you, and that often you may have to be even more aware of your own actions and behavior than you would in another business.
Source: The Family Business Advisor, February 2012 Issue, www.efamilybusiness.com
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department recently announced the results of a massive national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.
Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states. The coast-to-coast effort took place over the last week and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and information related to identity theft.
In addition, IRS auditors and investigators conducted extensive compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren’t facilitating refund fraud and identity theft.
“This unprecedented effort against identity theft sends a strong, unmistakable message to anyone considering participating in a refund fraud scheme this tax season,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are aggressively pursuing cases across the nation with the Justice Department, and people will be going to jail. This is part of a much wider effort underway at the IRS to help protect taxpayers.”
“The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS to investigate, prosecute, and punish tax refund crimes committed through the theft of identities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John A. DiCicco of the Tax Division. “Now, more than ever, we must remain vigilant against the unauthorized use of identification information to defraud the U.S. government.”
The national effort is part of a comprehensive identity theft strategy the IRS has embarked on that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued as well as working to help victims of the identity theft refund schemes.
The law-enforcement sweep started last week across the country, reflecting investigative efforts stretching back months and even years.
The nationwide effort by the Justice Department and the IRS led to actions taking place in 23 locations across the country with 105 individuals. The actions included 80 complaints/indictment, 58 arrests, 19 search warrants, 10 guilty pleas and four sentencings. A map of the locations and additional details on the actions are available on IRS.gov, the IRS Civil and Criminal Actions page and the Department of Justice Tax Division page.
To help taxpayers, the IRS earlier this month created a new, special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft matters, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against “phishing” schemes that can lead to identity theft.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personal information without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes using the victim’s name, Social Security number or other identifying information. When it comes to federal taxes, taxpayers may not be aware they have become victims of identity theft until they receive a letter from the IRS stating more than one tax return was filed with their information or that IRS records show wages from an employer the taxpayer has not worked for in the past.
If a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS indicating identity theft, they should follow the instructions in that notice. A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer will be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, and follow the instructions on the back of the form based on their situation.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov.
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
Valuation. Estimated or determined value; synonymous with appraising.
February 2, 2012 3:34 pm
Q: What are some important things to remember about closing day?
A: There are several. The following to-do list can help save you a few headaches and keep the closing on track:
• Keep extra money in your account. Something unexpected can pop up during the closing that will require more money out of your pocket. Take your checkbook. Even better, find out how much you will need to pay and write a certified check for the total amount.
• Take your loan commitment letter. Use it to verify loan approval in case of a mistake or misunderstanding with the lender.
• Take your contract to purchase. Pull it out if something a little suspicious comes up.
• Take your personal ID. A driver’s license or other personal identification will due.
• Do a before-closing inspection. It is always a good idea, when possible, to walk through the property to make a list of any problems.
• Utilities. Arrange in advance to have the water and electric meters read on closing day and the service switched to your name to prevent interrupted service. The same applies for the fuel tank.
February 1, 2012 5:34 pm
Auto loans are fairly easy to get—first, because the loan is backed by collateral in the vehicle, so lenders know they will get their money back or repossess the car—and second because most dealers will bend over backwards to sell you a car if they can reap extra profits by getting you financed.
In fact, according to Consumer Reports, because car loans are so easy to get, they are a good way for young people to establish credit.
At the same time, CR’s consumer advocates warn, buyers should make every effort to get that loan at the lowest possible interest rate. Here are five tips for doing so:
• Shop the rates first – Compare interest rates at various banks and credit unions before you visit the dealership. It’s an advantage to be preapproved for the loan before you shop for the car—and it gives you a basis for comparison if the dealership offers financing.
• Check the total cost of the loan – Focus on the annual percentage rate (APR). A lower rate produces significant long-term savings. Also consider the term of the loan, which affects both your monthly payment and the total loan cost. A shorter term means higher monthly payments, but will save you money in the long-term.
• Don’t buy just because the rate is low – A dealer may offer you a low cost loan, but only if you purchase a higher priced car—or a different model—than what you need or want. Consider that in the long run, you won’t be happy paying a few dollars less each month if you are not happy with the car itself.
• Your credit affects your interest rate – It’s a fact that buyers with great credit get better rates than those with poorer scores. Zero percent loans, for example, go exclusively to buyers with sterling credit. Check your score before you look for a car—and make an effort to fix any reporting errors before you shop for a loan.
• Separate financing discussions from auto price talks – Nail down the price for the vehicle before you discuss the loan. Many salespeople try to make it all one discussion by quoting you monthly payment rates. This is when a loan preapproval can make you the master of your fate.
February 1, 2012 5:34 pm
Despite lower unemployment rates and strengthening economic indicators, debt continues to be a pressing consumer issue with individual overall debt holding relatively steady amongst those seeking debt advice at an average of $15,227.
Consumer money resource Bills.com recently released its 2011 America’s “Debt Report,” which showed that overall debt ranks highest amongst West Coast consumers, with an average of $19,900. Credit card debt remains the most frequent type of consumer debt, and student loans rose by 4.5 percent to become the second most frequent type of debt. Three of the top four collection accounts are for telephone companies (Sprint, ATT, and T-Mobile), and despite discount brand status, non-bank credit cards issued by Walmart, Target, Sears and others registered high average balances.
“Consumers continue to be squeezed financially, but they are being practical and focused when it comes to deleveraging, which has become the buzzword and financial strategy of 2011,” said Brad Stroh, CEO and co-founder of Bills.com. “Those consumers forced into late payments are choosing low dollar bills with delayed penalties, while those in more severe debt are searching for the best debt relief strategy for their unique situation.”
Nationally, the average credit card debt is $5,500, and users hold an average of 2.5 credit card accounts. West Coast consumers hold highest credit card debt at $7,100, and banks are the top five credit card issuers amongst users.
February 1, 2012 5:34 pm
In 2010, more than 25 percent of Americans had pre-diabetes and another 1.9 million got a diabetes diagnosis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The single most effective way for people to avoid the disease? Losing weight.
This means that for some, losing weight has become a matter of life or death.
“The current obesity epidemic proves that the typical low-fat diet recommendations and low-calorie diets have not worked,” says Don Ochs, inventor of Mobanu Integrated Weight Loss Solution, a physician-recommended system that tailors diet and exercise to an individual’s fat-burning chemistry. “America is eating less fat per capita than we did 30 years ago, yet obesity, diabetes and heart disease are all up.”
To drop the weight and keep it off, people need to get rid of their stored fat by eating fewer processed carbohydrates and the correct amount of protein, and by doing both high and low- intensity exercises, Ochs says.
Here are some of his suggestions for getting started:
• Eat what your ancestors ate – if it wasn’t available 10,000 years ago, you don’t need it now. Our bodies haven’t had time to adapt to the huge increase in processed carbohydrates over the past 100 years. These refined carbs kick up our blood sugar levels, which triggers insulin production, which results in fat storage. Avoid candy and soft drinks, but also stay away from sneaky, sugary condiments like ketchup; dried fruits, which have more concentrated sugar than their hydrated counterparts, and anything with high fructose corn syrup.
• Eat the right kind of fat – it’s good for you! Bad fats include trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. Look for these on labels. Trim excess fat from meats and stick with mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Use olive oil for cooking, as salad dressing or on vegetables. Eat avocados, whole olives, nuts and seeds.
• Eat the proper amount of lean protein to maintain muscle mass and increase your metabolism. Eggs, legumes, meat and dairy in the right amounts are good protein sources. Remember, most of these contain fat, so it shouldn’t be necessary to add more. Use the minimum amount needed to satisfy your taste buds.
• Vary your workouts to speed up fat loss. Both high-intensity and low-intensity exercises play a role in maximum fat loss. Low-intensity exercise, like walking, is effective for reducing insulin resistance so you store less fat. Alternate walking with high-intensity interval training to build lean muscle mass and increase your metabolism. Interval training can be cardio blasts such as running up stairs on some days and lifting weights on others. This type of exercise forces your body to burn up its glycogen – a readily accessible fuel for your muscles—faster than an equivalent amount of cardio exercise. When you’re done, your body will replenish that fuel by converting stored fat back into glycogen and you’ll lose weight.
“Healthy weight loss isn't about picking a popular diet and trying to stick to it,” Ochs says. “It's about discovering the right diet for your unique body. For each person, the optimal amount of carbohydrates, proteins and exercise to burn the most stored body fat will be different. And that’s why one-size-fits-all diets just don’t work.”
Donald Ochs is a Colorado entrepreneur, the president and CEO of Ochs Development Co. and M4 Group, an inventor and sports enthusiast.